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Priorities of a Believer

To-do List

by Dennis Pollock

I don’t know who first came up with the idea of printing little pads of “to-do lists” but it was a good idea. Whether we use one of these pads, an app on our phone, or simply keep an idea of what we really, really need to do today in our heads, it is a very smart thing to put first things first. This is true not only in our daily schedules, but in our life ambitions. Some things simply are more important than others. If I should live to be a hundred years old and never learn to surf, my life will not have been much the worse for it, from my perspective anyway. But there are other areas of life which, if ignored, neglected, and never achieved would indeed spell out failure with a great big capital F.

In this devotional we are going to consider the essential priorities of believers. I will acknowledge at the start that God allows and indeed is pleased with a great variety of personalities, callings, and huge differences between His children. Some things which may be important and immensely satisfying to me may not mean so much to you. I enjoy watching the old, classic, black and white movies from the 1930’s through the 50’s and feel my week is incomplete if I haven’t watched at least one. I suspect that most of my readers and listeners probably don’t feel that way. That’s OK. Maybe you’ll “convert” later on!

But even though we evangelicals may be quite different from each other in a lot of ways, there are some life priorities which we all must share, whether old or young, male or female, athlete or nerd, socialite or introvert. These are not optional. Whatever we do or don’t do, achieve or fail to achieve, succeed in or fail at, with the following priorities, we must give both our full attention and our utmost efforts.

Priority # 1: Walk with God and Abide in Jesus:  Our adoption into the family of God produces a relationship with God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And relationship involves communication. Imagine a marriage where the husband and wife never talked to each other. The husband provides well for his wife and makes sure she has all her physical needs: a beautiful house, a nice car, and cabinets stuffed with food. The wife makes sure to keep the house clean, cooks delicious meals for her husband, and runs the domestic side of things. (I know this is horribly old-fashioned and out of date, but for the sake of the illustration please humor me!) She also makes sure to provide her husband those “marital rights” as he needs them. But they never talk. When he comes home from work the house is as still as a library run by a severe, no-nonsense librarian. Not a word is exchanged, with the one exception of when the husband leaves mornings for work, at which point they will break the silence with a curt, “Good-by dear.” What kind of marriage would that be?

As ridiculous as that scenario is to all of us, there are many who call themselves Christians who almost never pray, never read God’s word, and have essentially zero communication with the God they claim to serve and love. The apostle Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing” but in the lives of many professing Christians, there is an eerie silence without ceasing. The one exception to this might be when they get into serious trouble. Then they may break their silence, but once things get back to normal, silence rules once again.

We who belong to Christ must make time to regularly talk with our God (pray) and listen to Him (read His word). The Psalmist declares: “Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice (Psalm 55:17). This is how we communicate with God. We tell Him about our hopes and fears, our joys and disappointments, we ask Him to intervene into lives of people we know who are in trouble, and we thank Him for current and past blessings. We open our Bibles and let God speak to us. We let Jesus know that we trust Him in His many roles toward us: as our Savior, the Keeper of our souls, the Baptiser with the Holy Spirit, our True Vine, our Good Shepherd, and so many more.

This is not something for us to do when we have a little spare time. This is the deepest priority of our lives. It is number One, above every other priority. Whatever we do or don’t do, we will do this. We will talk to, listen to, and spend time with our God. This is our life, our breath, and our strength, and we will let nothing keep us from regular time with Him. We will guard our fellowship time ruthlessly, even if it means slashing other activities and events which may seem exceedingly attractive. For he or she who is too busy to pray and read the Scriptures… is too busy!

Priority # 2: Maintain Good Human Relationships:  Priority number two recognizes that it is not enough for us to love God alone; we must also love people. Not all people, at least not in a relational sense. Sometimes I have seen celebrities who receive a big applause from an audience of hundreds or thousands, and enthusiastically gush: “I love you!” back to them. It’s a nice thought, but of course they don’t love them; they don’t even know them. They may feel some warm feelings as a result of these people applauding them, but that’s about it. They don’t know their names, they don’t know what they do for a living, what types of personalities these people have, and have never talked with them, and likely will never meet them. It’s easy to “love” people as a whole; it’s a lot more challenging to love people you must interact with all the time, and whose flaws and quirks are nearly driving you crazy.

It is not remotely possible for us to love masses of people in a relational sense, nor does God expect it. But nearly all of us have certain people in our lives with whom we frequently interact. Often without asking for them or seeking them, we find ourselves surrounded with family members, co-workers, members of our church, and others with whom we somehow end up sharing life. You’ve heard of the Bible’s command to “love our neighbors?” Well, these truly are our neighbors! They may not live beside us, but their lives intersect our lives, like it or not. And Jesus commands us to love them.

Because they’re not perfect and we’re not perfect, a perfect relationship is not possible. So we shouldn’t be so idealistic about relationships that we get disappointed when they don’t always live up to our expectations. Still, we must strive for good, healthy, functional relationships where there is mutual respect, politeness, warmth, and forbearance. Strong relationships like this are really unnatural for us. It may be natural to start out that way, but over time as disagreements, disappointments, and clashes inevitably surface, what is natural is to break or severely draw back from the relationship. This we must not do. It may involve forgiving or overlooking faults not seventy times, but seventy times seven, or sometimes seven hundred times seven hundred. But somehow we must, by grace, forbearance, and love, find a way to keep the communication lines open, and a spirit of warmth and friendliness in the relationships.

And we must consider this not just a priority, but a huge priority, right underneath the priority of walking with God. Jesus commands us to love God and to love our neighbors. This means you work at it, you put up with things, you show kindness and friendliness when you don’t feel like it at all. It begins, first and foremost, with your spouse, but also extends to others that you know have been strategically placed in your life by the One who is extremely pro-relationship.

Priority # 3: Do Something:  I know this sounds strange, but it is in fact a biggie in the world of priorities. By “do something” I am talking about ministry. Sometimes we suppose that all our responsibilities are fulfilled simply by “loving” God and people, and we think that if we can just work up enough warm feelings for them, we have done all we need to do: Works don’t save, after all. Works are for the ungodly who strive to justify themselves.

That may sound pretty spiritual, but it could not be more wrong. It is true that we are saved by grace through faith, and not by works, but this in no way excuses the people of God from work, in fact lots of God-ordained, God-enabled work. It is highly significant that when Jesus addresses the seven churches in the second and third chapters of Revelation, telling them what He approves and does not approve about the way they are conducting church, His first word to every single one of them is this: “I know your works.” That’s right – every time Jesus addresses a church He wants them to realize that He is totally aware of what they are doing (or in some cases not doing). To the very first church, the church at Ephesus, He rebukes them for leaving their first love, and instructs them to “repent and do the first works,” lest He remove their lampstand (Revelation 2:5). Apparently, Jesus never got the memo that works are unimportant to New Testament Christians!

Getting Started

In our early days in Christ we may not be completely sure which works the Lord would have us to do. That’s Ok, in fact it’s normal. But this must not keep us from doing anything. Find something in the church that needs doing and do it! As you are faithful to make use of current opportunities for service, God will open further doors for you, and bring you into larger ministry opportunities which will fit you more perfectly. In the first decade of my Christian experience I was involved with a lot of ministry efforts which were not an ideal fit for me, including pastoring. But I did what I could find to do and in time Jesus, my good Shepherd, led me into areas which fit me better, and maximized my strengths and minimized my weaknesses.

But whether we are in a really good fit or a fit that feels like we’re wearing a shirt that belongs to someone four sizes bigger than us, we must do something. By all means pray and read God’s word, by all means treat people well and maintain the best relationships you possibly can, but don’t forget to DO SOMETHING! Teach a Sunday School class, pass out tracts, volunteer at a food pantry, go on a missions trip, stand in front of an abortion clinic with a sign that says “Choose life,” encourage your pastor, serve as an usher at church, lead a home group, support an evangelistic ministry with generous contributions, cook meals for people who have just had surgery, visit prisoners… but DO SOMETHING in Christ’s name. He knows your works.

God’s assigned ministry priorities for each believer can vary greatly. Writing is a big priority for me. Recently I signed a contract to write a book for a Christian publishing company. The contract came with a deadline. They wanted the complete manuscript from me in about five months. The problem was, I was already overloaded with work and was continually playing catch-up, just doing what I was doing. How in the world could I think about getting a book completed in five months? I wondered about this, but the opportunity was too great not to sign the contract. Afterwards I knew there would need to be a major shift in my time priorities. I did the one thing I knew would probably enable me to complete the book. I set aside one hour after breakfast for at least four days each week to work on the book. After several weeks I had made good progress, and completing the book on time began looking both reasonable and feasible. Other things had to be delayed or pushed aside, but the book is now on schedule.

Jesus is worthy. In a very real sense, all that we do, we do for Him. He has redeemed us by His blood, and our lives are His. And that means that His priorities have become our priorities. And so we pray, we read God’s word, we work hard at good relationships with others, and we work in His name.


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